According to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, Reds rightfielder and cleanup hitter Jay Bruce will need surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his left knee and will miss most of May as a result. There's never a good time to lose your cleanup hitter to knee surgery, but Bruce's injury seems particularly ill-timed for Cincinnati, which just took three of four games from the first-place Brewers to pull within a half-game of .500 and the second-place Cardinals. The injuries are starting to pile up.
In addition to Bruce, the Reds lost sophomore starting pitcher Tony Cingrani to shoulder tendinitis on Thursday and catcher Devin Mesoraco to a strained left hamstring on April 26, and rookie centerfielder Billy Hamilton missed the last three games with a sprained left hand after making a diving catch on Thursday. Meanwhile, both Mat Latos and Aroldis Chapman have yet to throw their first major league pitch of 2014. Chapman, who began a minor league rehab assignment on Thursday, could return as soon as Friday, Hamilton could be back in the lineup as soon as Tuesday, and Mesoraco will be eligible to return on Sunday. However, Mesoraco has yet to resume running, and Latos has done nothing more than play catch on flat ground since being diagnosed with a flexor mass strain in his pitching elbow during his rehabilitation from February meniscus surgery.
The Reds have thus far been fortunate with regard to the injuries in their starting rotation. Alfredo Simon has gone 4-1 with a 1.99 ERA and six quality starts in as many turns in Latos' stead, and off-days will allow the Reds to skip Cingrani's spot in the rotation the first two times through the rotation after placing him on the disabled list. The Reds won't need a fifth starter again until May 17, and, thanks to another off-day, will be able to skip that spot again the next time through the rotation after that, meaning they will only need one spot start until May 27, at which point Cingrani or Latos might be ready.
Bruce could also be back by May 27—that's the short side of the reported three-to-four weeks he's expected to miss—but his absence will have a far more immediate impact given his role as an everyday player in the heart of the Reds' lineup. That said, Bruce is not hitting the disabled list hot, as Mesoraco did. Mesoraco, who opened the season on the DL with an oblique strain, hit a blazing .468/.509/.787 in 13 games before re-injuring himself. Meanwhile, over his last ten games, Bruce has gone a mere 4-for-30 (.133) with 13 strikeouts and no extra-base hits.
Still, Bruce may have been cold, but that doesn't mean he was going to stay that way. He was hitting .250/.368/.458 on the season before that slump and has hit .262/.337/.489 (120 OPS+) over the last four years while averaging 30 home runs and 94 RBI. Bruce is a key bat in the Reds' lineup, and that lineup has been struggling thus far this year, posting a below-average 3.87 runs per game on the season. Losing Bruce won't help them correct that.
Chris Heisey stands to be the Reds' primary rightfielder in Bruce's absence. The 29-year-old showed a promising burst of power as a 26-year-old sophomore in 2011, slugging .487 with 18 home runs in 308 plate appearances, but that seems to have been an aberration. Heisey has hit just 17 home runs in 684 PA since while slugging .400 over that sample and seeing his ground-ball rate gradually increase each season. Lacking the ability to hit for average or draw walks, Heisey's modest pop is his only asset at the plate, rendering him a replacement-level bat in an outfield corner. He is a good fielder, but the Reds will have to look elsewhere for a boost to their lineup, which has been far too dependent on the fluky hot hitting of catcher Brayan Peña thus far. It's not clear exactly where that boost is going to come from with Bruce sidelined. Second baseman Brandon Phillips' slow start is actually in line with the steady decline he has experienced at the plate in recent years, despite the 32-year-old's denial of that trend. Ryan Ludwick, the team's 35-year-old leftfielder, seems even more unlikely to rediscover his faded form. Hamilton and shortstop Zack Cozart have already perked up from their slow starts. Corner infielders Todd Frazier and Joey Votto are already hitting, and the catchers have done more than their share thus far. Bruce was the one member of the lineup who seemed primed for a breakout. With him out, the onus would seem to fall on Votto, who despite his .429 on-base percentage is well below his established levels in terms of batting average and slugging. The catch is that without the threat of Bruce's power behind Votto in the lineup, the Reds' best hitter seems more likely to increase his league-leading walk total than to get the kind of pitches he can put in play with authority.